There is a For Sale sign in front of Howard Schnellenberger's house. He doesn't know where he's moving yet, but he knows he's moving on. Maybe to Louisville. Maybe Tampa Bay. Maybe Missouri. Maybe Buffalo. College or pros, it doesn't matter. Every time another coaching job opens up, Schnellenberger's name quickly rises to the top of the short list of prospective candidates.
Have rep, must travel.
Schnellenberger says it's "flattering" to be mentioned so often for so many jobs. But the truth is, Schnellenberger won't be leaving Miami because he wants to -- he loves the area -- but because he has to. "We would prefer to be able to stay in Miami," Schnellenberger said earlier this week, comfortably easing into the royal "we" as is his occasional wont. "But that's not possible. Inasmuch as Don Shula is coach of the Dolphins and they have a coach at the University of Miami, there's not much of an option."
Funny he should mention the University of Miami.
One short year ago, Schnellenberger was coach there. About this time, he was preparing Miami for its Orange Bowl game against unbeaten and top-ranked Nebraska, a game the Hurricanes would win, 31-30, making them national champions and Schnellenberger coach of the year. Had he but stayed put, Miami might well be in the Orange Bowl again, with another national championship on the line.
But Schnellenberger, whose level of self-confidence is slightly higher than the Aswan Dam, wouldn't stay put. In June, when Miami hotel man Sherwood Weiser offered him the titles of president, general manager and coach of the USFL team Weiser intended to buy and move from Washington to Miami, Schnellenberger chose the birds in the bush over the one in his hand. Most people assumed that he did it for money -- the personal services contract he signed with Weiser is reportedly worth over $1 million -- but Schnellenberger says he did it for love. "We were not leaving Miami; we were just changing teams," he said. "We were filling a community need by bringing pro football to Miami in the spring. I thought it very, very important to the area. They weren't going to bring it without me; I wouldn't have done it without Miami." Pride goeth before the fall.
The deal collapsed when the USFL switched to a fall schedule. Weiser didn't want to go head to head with the Dolphins. Nor did Schnellenberger. "There's no need for another fall football team," Schnellenberger said in that magnificent, unpaved gravel voice that seems so perfectly suited to narrate NFL Films.
The team was subsequently bought by Donald Dizney and relocated in Orlando. Schnellenberger respectfully declined to relocate with it.
So now he is, as they say in the trades, between engagements.
And very, very available.
Had he forseen the USFL's switch from spring to fall, Schnellenberger said, "I'd still be at the University of Miami. I was very happy there." He had three years left on his contract when he left. There was a wistfulness in his sigh as he lit his ever-present pipe and said, "It could have been great. It could have been the kind of thing they write books about."
In retrospect, did he regret leaving the university?
He puffed somberly on his pipe. "We made our decision, and we were prepared to live with it."
Undoubtedly, he will be coaching again soon. He has not enjoyed this season of exile, and he is far too accomplished to sit out another. One might question how long Schnellenberger can remain unemployed and still retain his full market value? What's the shelf life of last year's coach of the year this year? What's it next year? "I'm hoping it's like a great French wine -- it's long and enduring, and it gets better with age," Schnellenberger said, chuckling. "Anyway, I don't think there's any problem with the number of years I'm considering being on the shelf."
Is there, then, a timetable for getting a job?
Another puff. Another chuckle.
"How does 'As Soon As Possible' grab you?"
Schnellenberger said he has had just two conversations about coaching jobs: One with the president of the University of Florida, another with the athletic director at the University of Louisville. Schnellenberger allowed he would have considered -- "underline considered" -- the Florida job, but it was filled when Galen Hall was named to succeed Charley Pell. The Louisville job is still open. "I've been told I'm their No. 1 candidate -- whatever that means," Schnellenberger said. Louisville is attractive because it's his home town. But sentiment will stretch only so far. "We need to go to a place that really needs us to make an impact on the program, college or pro," he said, setting down the rules of this courtship as if he was both the bride and the father of.
He wants as much control as he can negotiate. No false modesty here.
Need authority, will talk.
Although Schnellenberger watched the Hurricanes on television, he didn't go to any Miami games this season. Nor has he spoken to his former players. "We've discouraged contact," he said. "When the coach leaves, the coach leaves -- even if he stays in town." Schnellenberger said he was "available at any time" to Jimmy Johnson, his successor at Miami, but Johnson didn't call. That's understandable since Johnson was not Schnellenberger's choice; Schnellenberger had recommended Tom Olivadotti, his own defensive coordinator. Schnellenberger will not discuss Miami's 8-4 season, or its heartbreaking losses to Maryland and Boston College. "It's not my place to do so," he said, diplomatically.
Now, they wait. The stately general Schnellenberger, still wearing his Miami national championship ring, and the Gang of Three who left the university for a phantom USFL franchise: Olivadotti, publicist Ron Steiner and marketing man Roy Hamlin.
The For Sale sign is up.
The road awaits.
" 'Regret' is not the right word," Schnellenberger said. "It's more a sense of leaving. Kind of like when a teen-ager leaves home."
When a teen-ager leaves, his parents often keep a bedroom waiting.
Schnellenberger laughed. "Oh, we'll keep a bedroom here," he said. "We will always keep a bedroom here."